By MAGGIE MENDERSKI
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
A small group of idolizing girls rushed toward Miss Illinois, Megan Ervin, after the first Heptathlon of Healthy Habits presentation at St. Francis Solanus School on Wednesday.
Ervin got her wish. The girls were eager, curious and most important, moving.
The Miss America candidate's glamour had captivated the young audience as she spoke about the importance of fitness. The fourth- and fifth-graders wanted to know how many sports she played, what her favorite sport was, how she'd become Miss Illinois and if the rhinestones on her sash were real.
As part of Quincy Medical Group's Heptathlon of Healthy Habits, community health coordinator Hannah McNeff will bring seven speakers to St. Francis and St. Dominic schools for the next seven weeks. These presentations will encourage healthy eating, generosity, good driving habits, recycling, reading, finding spirit and physical activity.
"We targeted fourth and fifth grade because it seemed like they're at a very impressionable age, but they can still take responsibility," McNeff said.
The heptathlon outlines healthy habits for kids and encourages them to take the lessons home and teach them to their families. Ervin spoke about incorporating physical activity and movement into each day. She advocated grabbing the whole family and going outside to walk or play.
"Don't just stop at yourself," she said. "A healthy family is what we want to influence."
She told the students that they're never too young to pursue a healthy lifestyle and encouraged them to ask their parents for more vegetables, initiate family activities, and watch for distracted behaviors during car rides. By reaching out to these fourth- and fifth-graders, QMG hopes to reach the whole area.
"We want to stairstep into the community," McNeff said.
QMG brought Zumba and yoga classes this past year to the students at St. Francis. Physical education teacher Vicky Mitchell had hoped to incorporate that element of variety this year, and the heptathlon filled that void. The activities initiate interest in fitness and illustrate other ways to stay healthy besides team sports.
"They're starting to want to specialize," Mitchell said. "It's not just team sports."
Ervin asked the class how they could obtain at least 30 minutes of activity each day. The kids suggested walking their dogs, playing sports and dancing. One girl even offered to walk her family's cow.
"That's probably a pretty good workout," Ervin said. "The cow is pretty strong."
Ervin encouraged them to move more than just pushing the buttons on the television remote, keyboards and video game controllers. By creating healthy habits, these practices carry over into high school, college and adulthood.
As a student in Rushville, Ervin played five sports, danced, performed in drama and was a member of National Honor Society. Her busy lifestyle kept her body and mind fit and instilled long-term healthy habits in her, which eventually helped her reach her goal of becoming Miss Illinois.
Each student left with Heptathlon of Healthy Habits workbooks to take home to their families. At the end of the heptathlon, QMG will encourage the students to sign a wellness pledge. During the eighth week, six-time Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee will visit the students for closing wellness remarks.